An integral part of Jewish life is all of the Jewish holidays that stud the Jewish calendar, and set a pace for Jewish life that has been continuing unbroken for more than 300 years.

Many outsiders often want to know, ‘What are the Jewish holidays in September, or around Easter?’ They want the Jewish festivals explained to them, as they see whole Jewish communities dressed up in disguise around Purim time, or menorahs being lit around hanukkah.

And there are also a growing number of Jews who don’t much about their own religious birthright and traditions, like Yom Kippur the day of atonement, a fast day where Jews neither eat or drink; Sukkot the festival of booths and lulavs and etrogs, or Purim, where we hear Megillat Esther, drink wine and eat a feast – all for the highest spiritual reasons!

In this section, we’ll get to grips with the chagim, as they are called in Hebrew and try to put together something of a ‘Jewish holidays for dummies’ guide, as the holidays are experienced by yours truly.

We’ll take a look at things like:

  • How to celebrate them
  • The meaning of Jewish holidays
  • Explaining the chagim
  • The importance of Jewish holidays like Passover, Pesach and Rosh Hashanah
  • share some holiday facts, and Torah sources about the festivals

And a few other things, besides, including how hard it can sometimes be to get into the right frame of mind to really celebrate the festival or day the way God really intended, plus the rarely understood inner dimension of the holidays and festivals.

And so, it is Pesach

This year has gone by in such a blur, that I almost can’t believe Pesach is here again.

What? So soon??!

How did that happen?

On the one hand, I’m so looking forward to having a week off from cleaning and writing and just plain thinking; but on the other hand, I’m kind of feeling a bit lost in the chag this year.

In the past, I feel that I’ve prepared much more for the holiday than I have this year.

There were years that I cleaned more (much more); years where I listened to more classes about leaving Egypt, and all that stuff. Years where I had lots of guests for seder (or even, some guests for seder).

Last year, I came into Pesach so finished that all my super-machmir habits kind of got smashed, and it’s interesting to see that my lack of oomph is continuing 12 months later, albeit in a much gentler and less dramatic way.

I just don’t really have energy for Pesach at the moment, it seems.

Not the cleaning, not the cooking, not the spiritual preparation, nothing.

On Shabbat, Rav Arush told the yeshiva to try and get everything done by Thursday afternoon, so that we’d have the energy to actually enjoy the seder a little bit, and to grab hold of some of the spiritual light that comes down on that most special of nights.

So now, I’m trying to get it all there, wherever ‘there’ actually is, by Thursday. But the idea that I’m somehow going to get filled up with light this Seder night seems quite bizarre to me, if I’m honest.

A few weeks’ ago, I realized that at least for me, ‘Egypt’ is my bad middot and negative character traits. Am I really going to be able to kick free of them once and for all, on Seder night?

Am I really going to get redeemed from the endless rush that seems to be my life, and everyone else’s?

Am I – and everyone else that I know – really going to finally accept the idea that there is more to life than the relentless chase after money?

You know, I have a few friends that I’ve known for ages and ages who I haven’t seen smile, properly, in about five years. Is that going to change, this Seder night? Are all the sad, stressed, lonely, lost people out there finally going to get redeemed, and start enjoying their lives the way God intended?

I SO hope so.

But, I’ve hoped for these things, and more, in years’ past, too.

Why is this seder night going to be any different from usual?

Ma nishtana, ha lila hazeh?

I guess I’ll have to wait for God to show me.

Drone view of a city

Well, how was your Purim?

Uplifting? Joyful? Stressful? Spiritual?

My Purim was actually quite nice, in a very non-standard way. This year, I decided to dress up as the ‘Doctor of the Soul’. I had a blue medical hat stuck on my headscarf, plus a plastic stethoscope and a big sign that I pinned to my top that said ‘Doctor of the Soul’, to make it clear.

In shul, an older American lady leaned over to me and told me: ‘I like your outfit, it’s cute’.

Aha! I thought I’d managed to identify another Breslev anglo in my area! Things were looking up!

Then she ruined it by leaning back over and stage-whispering:

‘What is that, anyway? A psychiatrist?’

On to the megilla reading.

They banned loud stamping and exaggerated musical instruments and groggers at the mention of Haman, so it went pretty fast – except for the fact that the older Moroccan woman directly in front of me decided she was going to read the megilla loudly herself – and completely out of sync – with the official version. It was like some weird simultaneous translation, or something.

I came home, I made challah (!) for the first time in months, I tried to wake up at midnight to pray, and mumbled something for about two minutes before conking out again – which was good, because at 5am I was woken up by some loud puking noises.

Hmm. We hadn’t even got to the stage of drinking the alcohol yet, or crazily stuffing in all the junk from the mishloach manot, so what was going on?! Turned out one of my children had stomach flu.

I have one bathroom and guests coming for seuda, and most of the morning she was running in there about every half an hour to throw up.

Hmmm. I decided to leave that up to God to sort out before the guests came, because in the meantime I had to hear megilla and then deliver my mishloach manot.

I got to shul 10 minutes before the megilla reading was meant to start – to discover they’d managed to lose the key to the aron hakodesh. We were waiting around 25 minutes before someone remembered which bookcase they’d shoved it behind, and they could unlock the Torah scrolls and get on with reading the megilla.

I ran home for the next stage of Purim: deliver the baskets of goodies.

This year, I decided to give 4 mishloach manot: 2 for people who lived close who I really like; and 2 for people who lived close who I really don’t like – thus, keeping all opinions satisfied.

I also decided to do ‘worthwhile’ baskets, with good wine and nice pastries, instead of the usual chocolate bar and waffley things – and one of my ‘don’t really like you’ recipients was clearly shocked when I handed it over, in a good way.

They reappeared at my door a few minutes later with a reciprocal bag of goodies, and heaped blessings on my head, including that we should merit to buy our own apartment soon. I took that as a really good sign, as that was most of my Purim ‘ask’ this year, but clearly they didn’t know that.

The puking kid went to sleep the whole time the guests were here, so that got resolved. The seuda was very relaxed and pleasant. And I was ready for Shabbat two hours early, for a huge change.

That night, I walked down to the Kotel for Friday night prayers, and a woman dressed as a huge silver bird came over to me and wished me ‘shabbat shalom’.

Hmmm.

I got to the Wall, and there was a flock of swallows spinning and turning all over the place right next to the wall, which is a pretty unusual sight – I don’t remember seeing that before. So given the bird woman, and then the unusual flock of birds, I decided to look up the ‘song’ of the swallows in Perek Shira when I got home.

Here’s what it said:

The swallow is saying, ‘So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.’

I liked that very much.

There’s a Breslov idea that Purim in many ways marks the beginning of the year. Just before the Purim seuda last year, my husband finally made it out of the depressed state that had engulfed him for months after our business went bust and we ran out of money, and went back to work the week after Purim.

I don’t know what amazing turnarounds and miracles await me this week, Bezrat Hashem, but I know they’re coming.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.